Approximately 250,000 to 400,000 people in the United States have spinal cord injuries. Each year, approximately 11,000 people sustain new spinal cord injuries. Most of these injuries are caused from auto and sports accidents, falls, and industrial mishaps. An estimated 60 percent of these individuals are 30 years old or younger, with the majority of them being men.
Spinal Cord Injuries result in damage to the spinal cord that results in a loss of function such as mobility or feeling. Other common causes of damage are trauma (gunshot, falls, etc.) or disease (polio). The spinal cord does not have to be severed for a loss of function to occur. In fact, in most people with spinal cord injuries, the spinal cord is unbroken, but the damage to it results in loss of a person’s functions. Spinal cord injuries are different from back injuries such as ruptured disks or pinched nerves.
How Important Is Your Spinal Cord?
The spinal cord is the major bundle of nerves that carries nerve impulses to and from the brain to the rest of the body. The spinal cord runs from the base of the brain to your waist. The brain and the spinal cord constitute the Central Nervous System. Motor and sensory nerves outside the central nervous system constitute the Peripheral Nervous System, and another diffuse system of nerves that control involuntary functions such as blood pressure and temperature regulation are the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems.
Spinal cord injuries fall into two categories, complete and incomplete. A complete injury means that there is no function below the level of the injury, no sensation and no voluntary movement. As a result both sides of the body are affected equally. An incomplete injury means that there is some functioning below the primary level of the injury. Individuals with an incomplete injury may be able to move one limb more than another, may be able to feel parts of the body that cannot be moved, or may have more functioning on one side of the body than the other.